National Air and Space Museum -- Exhibitions Search this
13.38 Cubic feet (11 legal document boxes, 1 shoe box (5 x 8 inches), 6 records center boxes )
This collection consists of background material collected in support of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM) exhibit "Black Wings: The American Black in Aviation" (opened in 1982) and its companion book (published 1983) by curators Von Hardesty and Dominick Pisano, a related symposium, educational materials, and a travelling version of the exhibit. The collection contains photographs and textual materials used in the exhibit and book, internal correspondence and memoranda, and a large amount of material gathered for research purposes but not used in any "Black Wings" production.
Scope and Contents:
The core of the collection covers activities of American Black aviators between 1917 and 1981, from Eugene Bullard's service as a pilot in World War I through the first Black astronauts assigned to the Space Shuttle program in the early 1980s. Curators Von Hardesty and Dominick Pisano and other Museum staff collected and generally grouped materials to fit the four chronological sections of the "Black Wings" exhibit and related book, with a strong emphasis on the stories of individual people.
Headwinds (1917-1939) covers pioneer fliers such as Bullard and Bessie Coleman; Black aviation activities in the Chicago and Los Angeles areas; early aviators and organizers including William J. Powell, Willa Brown, and Cornelius Coffey; and long distance flights by James Herman Banning and Thomas C. Allen, and C. Alfred "Chief" Anderson and Dr. Albert E. Forsythe.
Flight Lines (1939-1945) includes the 1939 flight of Dale L. White and Chauncey E. Spencer to Washington, D.C.; the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPT); the start of training of Black military pilots at Tuskegee Army Air Field during World War II; and training of the all-Black 477th Bombardment Group. This section and the next include U.S. Army Air Force documents and photography, and materials obtained from individual Tuskegee Airmen.
Wings for War (1943-1945) covers the experiences of the men of the 99th Fighter Squadron and later the 322nd Fighter Group, all-Black fighter units which participated in the Allied campaigns in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy during World War II, and their commander, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.
Era of Change (1945-1981), including many materials from the U.S. armed forces and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), covers the desegregation of the armed forces; military pilots' participation in the Korean and Vietnam wars (featuring William Earl Brown, Jr.; Daniel "Chappie" James, Jr.; Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.); general aviation (John W. Green, Jr.; Neal Loving); commercial aviation (Perry H. Young, Jr.; James O. Plinton, Jr.); and the U.S. space program, including not just the first Black astronauts (Guion S. Bluford, Jr.; Ronald E. McNair; Frederick D. Gregory; Charles F. Bolden) but many other NASA professional men and women from Project Mercury through the beginning of the Space Shuttle era.
Most of the material was photocopied from other sources such as books, newspapers, periodicals, and other archival collections, but many copy photographs and anecdotes were obtained from the aviators themselves (or their families), particularly those active in the 1930s and 1940s. The collection also contains internal Museum documents, notes, and memoranda regarding the development and implementation of the various "Black Wings" productions, including portions of exhibit scripts, book manuscripts, ephemera, and Museum photography taken at the exhibit opening and the symposium. Photographic formats include prints, copy prints, 4 x 5 inch black and white copy negatives and color transparencies, and 35mm copy slides. Quality of the photography is often fair to poor, as the copies are several generations removed from the original images.
The last six boxes of the collection (currently unprocessed) consists of material collected circa 2000 by curator Cathleen S. Lewis and Ian Cook (NASM Department of Space History) for a proposed update to the "Black Wings" exhibit. After it became clear that the exhibit was not going to be updated, Lewis transferred the material to the NASM Aeronautics Department, as Hardesty and Pisano were contemplating an update to the Black Wings book. This, too, failed to materialize, and the material was transferred to the NASM Archives in May 2018 to be added to the existing Black Wings Exhibit and Book Collection. This series was received by the Museum's Archives Division after the existing collection material had been scanned; it has not been scanned.
The collection is divided into six series. The first four roughly chronological series (Exhibit, Book, Educational Outreach, and Symposium) relate to the different "Black Wings" productions, and materials within each series often reflect the four-section groupings detailed in the Scope and Content note. The next series, Research Materials, has four sub-series: Biographical Files (alphabetical by last name), Subject Files and Study Materials (alphabetical by subject), Photographic Negatives, and Photographic Prints and Illustrations. The last series houses later additions to the collection which are currently unprocessed.
Materials within folders are predominantly photocopies (xerographs) and often include numerous duplicates, many unlabeled, and in no specific order. Materials relating to an exhibit often include a NASM Exhibits Department reference number (example: SE:13-L73-P58 to P59) indicating the exhibit number (13), label number (L73), and position within the exhibit (P58 to P59). Some materials are not visible online due to copyright restrictions.
Biographical / Historical:
On September 23, 1982, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM) exhibit "Black Wings: The American Black in Aviation" opened as part of the existing "Pioneers of Aviation" exhibit located in Gallery 208 of the museum's National Mall Building in Washington, D.C. The exhibit was dedicated to the American Black Aviator, who anonymously played a historic role in shaping the growth of modern aviation. "Black Wings" encompasses the men and women who had to overcome enormous social pressures in order to gain the right to pursue the dream of flight in both civilian, military, and commercial circles. The exhibit generated much public and media interest, and inspired the Museum to sponsor a symposium on February 25, 1983, entitled "The American Black in Aviation, A Decade of Change: 1939-1949," (working title: "Tuskegee Airmen at War") featuring presentations by historians and U. S. Army Air Forces veterans including Noel F. Parrish (Commander, Tuskegee Army Air Field, 1942-1946), George F. Roberts (Commander, 99th Fighter Squadron, September 1943 to April 1944), and pilots Lewis A. Jackson, Elwood T. Driver, and Louis R. Purnell. In conjunction with the exhibit, the Museum, working with Sid Aaronson Films, Inc., produced a set of sound filmstrip packages designed for elementary and secondary school use. In 1983, the Smithsonian Institution Press published a companion book, Black Wings: The American Black in Aviation, authored by the exhibit's curators, Von Hardesty and Dominick Pisano; a second edition was issued the following year as part of the Smithsonian History of Aviation and Spaceflight series. A Smithsonian Institution Travelling Exhibition Service (SITES) version of the exhibit began circulating to other museums and venues in June 1983, and a expanded version of the SITES exhibit (featuring additional artifacts, photography, and audio-visual materials) was displayed April 1 to August 5, 1984, at the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum (later know as the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum) in Washington, D.C. The original NASM "Black Wings" exhibit—with occasional updates—remained on display in the "Pioneers of Flight" gallery (later renamed the "Barron Hilton Pioneers of Flight Gallery") until 2019 when the gallery was closed due to renovations to the Museum's National Mall Building.
"Black Wings: African American Pioneer Aviators" NASM Website Collection, NASM.2004.0026 [finding aid not available online]
National Air and Space Museum (NASM) Department of Aeronautics, Transfer, 1993, NASM.1993.0060; additional material transferred from NASM Department of Space History, 2018
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